Mary Wickes played a series of busybodies, nurses, and nuns, with a quintessential no-nonsense comic flare that was as endearing as it was caustic.
Her film career took off when she brought her Broadway role of Nurse Preen in “The Man Who Came to Dinner” to Hollywood for the screen version in 1942, but after “White Christmas” (1954) where her portrayal of the inn’s housekeeper kept the art of screwball comedy alive in the ‘50s, Miss Wickes headed for what must have been greener pastures in television, where her career lasted several more decades, with a few more forays into films like “The Trouble With Angels” (1966) and “The Music Man” (1962).
Late in her life, it’s especially fun to see an old pro play off a new kid when Mary Wickes plays opposite Whoopi Goldberg in “Sister Act” (1992), and how she adds a deft downbeat of silliness to the character of Aunt March in the classic “Little Women” (1994). There is particular poignancy of her last role, where she voiced the crusty but with a heart of gold Laverne the gargoyle in Disney’s animated feature “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1996). This last film was released after Miss Wickes’ death.
The layers of sardonic meaning she could add to a simple line were her trademark, but she never became shrewish or unpleasant. She had more class in one pratfall than many other actors could achieve as glamorous stars.